Perfect Day has now developed technology to insert a DNA sequence into yeast-like bacteria to produce casein and whey proteins identical to cows’ milk proteins.
The process for producing animal proteins involves introducing the genes encoding the desired proteins, such as those from a dairy cow into a fast-growing, efficient host organism grown in fermenters where it expresses the desired proteins. The host is typically yeast.
The company raised US$40 million from investors and has proceeded to enter the ingredients market, selling proteins to large food manufacturers as a component in baby formula, protein bars and biscuits.
Pandya his partner Perumal Gandhi are on Forbes Under 30 list as rising stars in the fast growing synthetic food industry.
The process is claimed to produce milk products using 98% less water and 65% less energy while also claiming to replicate the molecular structure of dairy milk.
With the global dairy sector valued at US$600 billion even a 1% penetration is a significant opportunity.
The company said it is already supplying ingredients giant Archer Daniels Midland, a US$65 billion company that is also a partner in Perfect Day, and working on scaling up the technology.
In July the company hit the shelves with its only consumer-ready product, an ice cream that sold for US$20 per 600ml tub that was sold out in hours. That price was 20-25% up on conventional premium ice creams in the US.
Because the product’s protein is identical to milk’s the company is required to state “contains milk” on labels.
Other companies starting up in the synthetic milk space include New Culture, led by ex-Kiwi Matt Gibson now based in San Francisco.
His company raised US$3.5 million in September in seed funding for dairy protein technology.
Gibson says having been around dairying in NZ all his life he understands how much environmental damage it could incur and how absent NZ is in the synthetic dairy space.
Gibson has mozzarella cheese in his sights for the company’s first product, easily made and the most consumed cheese in the United States. Gibson claims no lactose, no cholesterol and lower fat/sugar levels as key dietary benefits of his cheese.
He has acknowledged scaling the technology is a big challenge, along with labelling and determining if he will be allowed to call the product cheese.
He estimates the company is four years from going to market.
Other small companies in the start-up phase include Real Vegan Cheese, iGEM Canterbury and the partially Fonterra-owned Motif FoodWorks.